Vinegar Hill and the Greenhorn Mountains
Vinegar Hill is the highest point in the Greenhorn Mountains where the Gold Rush hit in the early 1860's as it did across much of Eastern Oregon. Formerly known as Greenhorn Peak, sometime in the 20th century the mountain began appearing on maps as Vinegar Hill. As for the name greenhorn, there does exist a pinnacle of green serpentine on the east ridge of Vinegar Hill that is referred to as the "Greenhorn". The presence of green hued serpentine along the mountains summit ridgeline attracted miners to the area in the first place. Subsequently Vinegar Hill is the location of many mining sites that can easily be explored if the location is known. The easiest to find of these is the Morning Mine which is discussed below in more detail.
Below on left; The Green Horn
Above: Looking towards Sunrise Butte and Indian Rock in the distance.
There once was a Forest Service lookout
on the summit, however all that remains of it now is a section of the foundation. The summit of Vinegar Hill is a rocky point on a long east-west running ridge and may be difficult to locate when approaching the summit ridge from below as there are several false summits. The view here is outstanding with this mountain being located directly between the Strawberry and Elkhorn Mountains
with the North Fork of the John Day River drainage on the north side of the mountain and the Middle Fork of the John Day River drainage on the south side.
Vinegar Hill is #24
on the list of Oregon peaks with 2000 feet or more of prominence. Unbelievably, on a clear day Mt Jefferson and Hood are visible in the distant west.
Beginning in John Day located in Central Eastern Oregon, travel 28 miles east on highway 26 to Austin Junction. At Austin Junction turn left off of Highway 26 onto Oregon Highway 7 which leads to Baker City. You will only follow Oregon Highway 7 for one mile when you will see on the left the Middle Fork Road. Turn off onto the Middle Fork road and follow it West down the Middle Fork of the John Day River. After travelling down the Middle Fork Road for roughly 2 miles watch on your right for Forest Service Road 2010 also known as Vincent Creek Road. This Gravel road is the turn off that you need to take.
Forest Service Road 2010 leads all the way to the summit of Vinegar Hill, although it is likely the road will be blocked by fallen trees, snowdrifts, or may be washed out once you hit the unmaintained section. The road is maintained for roughly 7 miles from where it becomes a 4x4 road only. From the end of the maintained road to the summit it is almost 6 miles if following the road. If you are hiking this distance can be shortened by taking the southwest ridge route
Vinegar Hill is part of the Vinegar Hill - Indian Rock scenic area meaning that off road use by vehicles is prohibited and that campers must park within 300 feet of roads. A Northwest Forest Pass is not required.
If you can reach it by vehicle the Black Butte campsite is located 10 miles up road 2010 from the Middle Fork Road. Black Butte Camp is completely unmaintained and is little more than a nice green pasture to set up a campsite. Less than a mile further up the road is Camp Sims where water can be found on the right side of the road where a pipe is driven into the hillside. Despite its name, Camp Sims is not a camping area, but as mentioned water can be found here.
If you are looking for a more accessible campground, there are several lightly maintained sites along the Middle Fork of the John Day River. To find these, merely continue west down Middle Fork Road beyond where you turn off onto road 2010. These campgrounds are Deerhorn and Middle Fork the latter of which does require a fee.
For dining the Austin House is located at Austin Junction a few short miles from the Middle Fork Road turnoff on highway 7. This resteraunt/store/tavern combination serves delicious food, the elk burger is highly recommended when available.
Finally you may find Olive Lake appealing. Information for the campsite can be found here
. Located on the north side of Vinegar Hill, Olive Lake is a popular camping area and fee's are charged.
At Left: Black Butte campsite
The Morning Mine deserves special mention here as there are several unique points of interest at this site. The Morning Mine is roughly 8 miles up Forest Service Road 2010 on the left side of the road. At first glance it appears as nothing more than a turn out on the side of the road. The mine itself has collapsed, but the creek on the West side of the Talus pile comes out of the collapsed Morning Mine shaft. This creek may run dry in the hottest months of the year, but during the spring a fast moving stream erupts directly from the side of the mountain out of the collapsed mine shaft.
I would recommend that you take the time to explore this site when you make the Vinegar Hill trip, you may be fascinated with some of the wreckage that remains hidden here in the forest. Also worth mentioning is that there are countless other mining sites located around Vinegar Hill, many featuring industrial relics from the past.
A manned lookout resides atop Indian Rock at 7700 feet, the western highpoint of the Vinegar Hill Indian Rock Wilderness. Although its only about a 50 yard walk from the end of the road to the summit of Indian Rock, the view afforded from this highpoint is incredible. On a clear day Mt Jefferson, Mt Hood, and Mt Adams (180 miles away to the NW in Washington) are each visible, amazing to see from an Eastern Oregon peak.Below, Indian Rock as seen from the summit of Vinegar
When to Climb
The best time to hike Vinegar Hill is Mid-June to October due to poor road conditions. It is likely that early in the season the road will be blocked in many places by blowndown trees, so expect to have a lengthy hike during this time. This is a popular hunting area so be dressed appropriately during hunting seasons in the fall and winter.